Farewell re-enacted with little fanfare

HISTORIC EVENT: A march from Anzac park to Wakefield Quay on Saturday marked the soldiers' sendoff on August 15, 1914.
HISTORIC EVENT: A march from Anzac park to Wakefield Quay on Saturday marked the soldiers' sendoff on August 15, 1914.

Few members of the public took the opportunity to witness a re-enactment of the first sailing of troops to World War I but those who did glimpsed a moment in Nelson's history through modern eyes.

Members of 2/4 Regiment of the Royal New Zealand Army Reserve, TS Talisman Sea Cadets, Army Cadets and Air Training Corps members marched on Saturday afternoon from Anzac Park along Haven Rd to Wakefield Quay for the ceremony held at 2pm on the same spot from where the soldiers left after a huge public farewell on August 15, 1914.

This time only a handful of onlookers were there to hear speeches from provincial museum chief executive Peter Millward, Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese, Nelson MP Nick Smith and Lieutenant-Colonel Phil Bellamy, with prayers by cathedral dean Nick Kirk and music by Nelson City Brass.

A few were in World War I uniforms and clothing from that era, along with two of the army reservists.

Millward said Nelson region's population had doubled since 1914, when 252 men sailed away, many of whom would serve with distinction. Another 158 men and 166 horses left Nelson on August 18.

"In all, by the end of 1918, more than 2440 men and women from this province would serve in some capacity - soldiers, nurses, padres, medical staff, sailors and airmen in British forces and, of course, many as soldiers in Australian forces and British regiments."

Six hundred of the men were Nelson College old boys and many of the nurses were from Nelson College for Girls.

Within three weeks of the declaration of war, fundraising was underway for the Empire Defence Fund, the Lady Liverpool Fund, the Nelson Relief Fund, the Local Distress Fund, the Nelson Equipment Fund, and the Bible in Schools Ambulance, "to name half a dozen that are readily discovered".

The impact of the departure of so many young men, ultimately 10 per cent of the region's male population, is hard to imagine", Millward said.

Reese said she had come from seeing the Nelson College and Marlborough College rugby teams perform their pre-match haka on Trafalgar Park.

"Looking at those fine young men I reflected on the sharp reality of this day in history. I hope that you feel the sense of honour, occasion and trepidation experienced by the people who stood where you stand now today."

She quoted from the Nelson Evening Mail report of the speech given by Nelson Mayor William Lock in 1914: "Mayor Lock recognised the splendid spirit of loyalty the men displayed in coming to the aid of their country, and hoped that they would come back having done credit to themselves, their country and the empire".

In his address, Smith said World War I was when "factory killing" by machine gun was invented.

"We should not step back from the horror that began for those hundreds of men that left this community of Nelson."

He believed the birth of New Zealand nationhood began with the departure of the first troops.

"Through the events of World War I we worked out that we weren't Brits, that we were New Zealanders, and that we were different."

As World War I commemorations continued, people should reflect on the development of what it was to be a New Zealander, Smith said. "It began with those brave men who went on those vessels and left this wharf 100 years ago."

Nelson city councillor and WW100 co-ordinator Ian Barker - dressed in a World War I colonel's uniform - said he had hoped more people would have attended the re-enactment but those who did entered into the spirit of the day by putting on period uniforms and costumes.

The ceremony was screened from public view by cargo sheds. If it had been visible from Wakefield Quay it might have drawn a much bigger crowd, he said.

The Nelson Mail